fall 2003, Pleasant Rowland's Aurora Foundation LLC purchased and moved Webb House to
a "temporary" location. She had assured the original owners that the
structure would be relocated to another site the following spring.
This move was made with no permits. None whatsoever. And Webb House remained in its
unapproved location for three years, raised on steel beams: a
dangerous, uninhabitable, illegal structure in violation of zoning code
and all common sense.
In the summer 2004, the LLC filed for a demolition permit to tear down
Lake House (an adjacent property owned by Wells College), so that
neighboring Webb House could be put in its place. At a public hearing
in July, 35 people spoke against the Lake House demolition and 4 spoke
in favor. The public wanted to save this unpretentious structure, one
of the few remaining outbuildings of the village's lakeside mansions,
which for about 60 years had given the community affordable housing
with four 1-bedroom apartments.
Faced with this strong opposition, the LLC asked for postponements of
the Community Preservation Panel's demolition decision in August,
September, and October of 2004, and then apparently abandoned the idea.
But in February 2005, the LLC proposed demolishing Lyon House instead,
the gracious and distinctive 100-year old mansion which Lake House once
served. This outrageous proposal seemed a clear attempt to "punish" the
villagers for trying to save Lake House.
(Pleasant bought back Lyon House for Wells College for $185,000 in
2003, a few years after the college had sold it off for $112,000.
Having made this investment, the LLC then failed to winterize the
structure. Pipes burst, causing water damage which went unrepaired. The
house is structurally sound and historically significant, but it has
been allowed to sit empty and rot for three years; see photos,)
In June 2005, the Community Preservation Panel voted unanimously to
refuse permission to demolish Lyon House. This was the first -- and so
far the only -- time any village agency refused to comply with
Finally, in fall of 2005 the Village Code Enforcement
Officer issued orders to remedy the situation of the illegal
structure, Webb House. These were ignored by Rowland; no fines were
imposed. A second deadline to remedy came and went in February 2006:
Rowland did nothing and the CEO and Village did not act.
Immediately thereafter an "independent" purchaser -- C.J. Koepp -- came
forward and offered to do just what Pleasant wanted done in the first
place: destroy Lake House and move Webb House into its place.
(Previously, Koepp had tried to purchase Lyon House from its faculty
owner, but unfortunately Wells exercised its "buy back" clause and
disallowed the sale.)
A public hearing took place on April 5, 2006 to consider, once again,
the demolition of Lake House. More questions were raised than were
answered. And all the neighboring property owners publicly objected to
the project. But the next month the Community Preservation Panel
approved the demolition of the now deteriorating Lake House, from which
the college had evicted all residents two years ago so the apparment
building could sit vacant and fall apart.
In June 2006, the Planning Board gave conditional approval to
the prospective buyer of Lake and Webb Houses to demolish the former
and move the later into its place if they could produce a purchase
contract and only after final site plans for the project had
been submitted, reviewed, and approved. The Village's lawyer directed
the Planing Board to set those conditions.
Later that month, a suit was brought against Webb House relocation
In the midst of all this, David Kirk offered to buy the grand, rapidly
deteriorating Lyon House (photos) from the
college. The college made the negotiations so difficult that he
withdrew his offer the day before it was scheduled to be presented in a
public hearing on August 9, 2006.
At the September Planning Board meeting of 9/13/06, more
plans were presented, but they were neither "final," nor presented for
comment in a public hearing, nor approved by the board. Shortly
thereafter, a Cayuga County Judge dismissed the lawsuit
Later that month, C.J. Koepp got a demolition permit for Lake House
from Code Enforcement Officer Doug Staley even though
she had not yet met the required conditions. No final
site plan had been submitted, reviewed, or approved.
(She even might
have obtained the permit before she finally purchased the house from
Wellls College that fall for $25,000, a mere 26% of its assessed value.)
Nevertheless... on November 2, 2006, Lake House Apartments was
demolished! It seems that this was done without a properly issued
demolition permit. Photos here.
Then -- after the irreversible act of demolition -- the Planning Board
announced that the final site plan review for the project to relocate
Webb House on the Lake House lot would be held on November 8th!!! New,
previously unsubmitted site plans were approved at that meeting, but
with significant contingencies -- a property easement, DOT permission
and DEC approval are still required. Will these conditions also be
ignored, as in the case of the demolition permit? Will the work again
move ahead without proper authorization?
Of course: work began on 11/13/06 to move Webb House and dig its
foundation with no building permit posted at the work site.
Then came the floods. On November 16, improper procedures during the Webb House move broke
a major storm drain / gully stream culvert that runs downhill from
up-country, goes under Route 90, and empties into the Lake. Flood
Nevertheless, the house was placed on top to the damaged
culvert, without permission or approval from the DOT.
In December 2006, after three years of
rejecting, ignoring, or
discouraging all potential buyers for Lyon House, owner Wells
College emailed its faculty to announce that the property was going on
the market. The public was invited to tour the building on Sunday,
January 7th and submit a bid to VP Diane
Hutchinson by January 22.
And six months after being repositioned,
Webb House in April 2007 was far from settled. It clearly appeared
elevated higher than the variance permitted. Department of
Transportation officials have been at the site
several times, but to date there is no approved plan on file
for safely relocating the gully run-off storm drain which broke during
Lyon House was sold for $187,500 to a couple from NYC (exclusive
So-Ho realtor Paddington
Zwigard and architect Todd Zwigard), as reported in the Property
Transfers of The Citizen of May 6, 2007.
From April '06 through July of '07, a neighboring resident submited
several written complaints
about work being done on Webb House that may not have been approved by
the Planning Board or the Community Preservation Panel, and about excavation done at
Lyon House without any permits issued to then owner Wells College.
On July 3, 2007, the Village Attorney advised that he had
"no recollection" of the PB or CPP approving an addition on
the north of Webb House, and if his "memory is correct," the code
enforcement officer "must order a work stop on this addition
immediately." Nevertheless, construction continued.
A stop work order was issued -- finally -- on July 26.
However... at its August 2007 meeting, the Community Preservation Panel
-- an appointed board of our local government which must require a
certificate of appropriateness for any significant change to an
exterior architectural feature in the village -- retroactively approved
all the admittedly illegal being done work at Webb House with no such
The new owner of Lyon House began a welcome a 18-month renovation of
the historic home, during which she obtained unique permission to use
public property to install a heat
exchange system in the lake and seriously damaged a Village Park.
In the fall of 2008, the new Lyon House owner then joined with the
owners of Webb House in bringing a lawsuit to claim the
lakefront behind their houses (which was
purchased directly from the railway company by the Hollands
Interestingly, Paddington Zwigard, the new owner
of Lyon House, has
become the exclusive real estate agent for Pleasant Rowland's houses in
Aurora and become an incorporated partner
with Wells President Lisa Marsh Ryerson in owning and operating a local
And now, in the spring of 2009, it appears that the DOT will have to
correct the culvert mess
created by our Village's Mayor, Code Officer, and Planning Board acting
in collusion with the owners of Webb House, by seizing private property
and relovating a stream, all at the expense of NYS taxpayers.
Three Years of Press Coverage - in chronological order
Webb House could
have been relocated away from Lake House, away from the problematic
storm drain, away from the congested jam of the Lodge, Lyon, and
Holland Houses. Read the recent account
of a 3 story, 4200 square foot house bought for $1 and moved intact
over 3 miles in urban Maryland for $100,000. See a journal about the
project, and visit the company
that did the work. Houses also can be dismantled for transport; see a
New York Times article
about an 11 room house moved from New Jersey all the way to Indiana.
And houses can even be moved
by barge over water!